Hopscotch in Iraq
With the Iraq war in its fifth year, US President George W Bush’s plea for more ‘patience’ to let his revised battle plan work is likely to fall on deaf ears. On television last Monday to mark four years since he ordered the invasion, Mr Bush urged Congress leaders to send him a war-funding bill ‘without strings’. Neither Congress nor the American people, though, seem willing to subscribe any more to attempts to check the spiralling bloodshed in Iraq, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 US soldiers and over 650,000 Iraqis. Even with their slim majority in the Senate, the Democrats are pushing a war-spending bill with a troop withdrawal deadline of September 1, 2008. They threaten to speed this up if Mr Bush fails to certify that the Iraqi government has met benchmarks for providing security and made constitutional amendments.
This is not surprising as predictions about the cost and length of the war have been far surpassed, prompting Americans to oppose Mr Bush’s latest plan to send in 30,000 more combat and support troops to Iraq. It’s time Mr Bush publicly admitted that the Iraq intervention has failed. For only then will the US be in a position to consider a gradual withdrawal of troops in conjunction with increased military training of Iraqi forces. Washington would do well to acknowledge that withdrawing troops couldn’t make matters any worse. In fact, the US would still be able to protect its interests after a troop pullback by monitoring developments on the ground from secure bases, and working to influence political developments in Baghdad.
The threat from al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups in Iraq could be countered with small-scale raids and surgical strikes. It will still be worth it if Iraq manages to put up a central government with limited powers, provincial governments with extensive autonomy and, at the local level, representation for its minorities.